Mary McElroy – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island

When the 114th Congress adjourned, it left 59 Obama nominees unconfirmed.  In 2017, President Trump renominated eight of those nominees.  After a long hiatus in the first few months of the year, Trump has sent forward and sent an additional four renominations, the first of which is Mary McElroy.


A native Rhode Islander, Mary Susan McElroy was born in Providence in 1965.  McElroy attended Providence College, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1987.  After a year working at The Personnel People, McElroy attended Suffolk University School of Law, graduating in 1992.[1]

After graduating, McElroy clerked for Justice Donald Shea on the Rhode Island Supreme Court and then worked as an Associate at the Providence firm Tate & Elias LLC.[2]  In 1994, McElroy joined the Rhode Island Public Defender’s Office as an Assistant Public Defender.

In 2006, McElroy moved to join Federal Defender for the Districts of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.[3]  In 2012, McElroy moved back to the state-law side to become the Public Defender for the State of Rhode Island.  She continues to serve in that capacity.

History of the Seat

McElroy has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island.  This seat opened with Judge Mary Lisi’s move to senior status on October 1, 2015.  McElroy was first recommended for this vacancy by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and was nominated by the Obama Administration on September 8, 2015.[4]

McElroy received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on December 9, 2015, and was approved without objection on January 28, 2016.  However, McElroy’ nomination stalled on the floor due to the blockade on confirmations imposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  Without floor action, it was returned unconfirmed on January 3, 2017.

After the election of President Trump, Reed and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) (a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee) pushed the new Administration to renominate McElroy for the vacancy.  After a long period of inaction, McElroy was renominated on April 10, 2018 by President Trump, with the support of Reed and Whitehouse.

Legal Experience

McElroy has spent virtually her entire legal career in indigent defense, working as a public defender on both the state and federal levels.  From 1994 to 2006, McElroy worked as an Assistant Public Defender on the state side.  In 2006 to 2012, McElroy served as Assistant Federal Defender, practicing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island.  Since 2012, McElroy has served as the Public Defender for the State of Rhode Island, focusing on the administration of indigent defense services throughout the state.

In her twelve years as an Assistant Public Defender in Rhode Island, McElroy represented defendants charged with both misdemeanors and felonies.[5]  In that capacity, McElroy secured an acquittal for a defendant charged with accidentally shooting a colleague.[6]

In her time as an Assistant Federal Defender, McElroy represented defendants in federal court.  During her tenure, she helped successfully suppress evidence obtained through an unconstitutional search by a police officer.[7]  She was also able to turn back a sentencing enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act for a different client.[8]

Political Activity

McElroy has a relatively brief political history.  In high school and college, McElroy supported the campaigns of Democrats Julius Michaelson for U.S. Senate and James O’Neil for Rhode Island Attorney General.[9]  Additionally, McElroy also was a member of Rhode Island Young Democrats from 1984 to 1986.[10]

Overall Assessment

Given her history in representing indigent defendants, her left-of-center credentials, and her previous nomination by President Obama, it was unclear that McElroy would be renominated by the Trump Administration.  Now that her name has been sent back to the Senate, McElroy faces better odds at confirmation than she did the first time around. If confirmed, McElroy will join the small pool of judges who have experience with indigent defense.

[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 114th Cong., Mary S. McElroy: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id. 

[4] Press Release, White House, President Obama Nominates Three to Serve on the United States District Courts (September 8, 2015) (on file at  

[5] See McElroy, supra n. 1 at 15.

[6] State v. Tabor, No. P1-1998-3839A (R.I. Super. Ct.).

[7] See United States v. Arias, Case No. 08-CR-002T (D.R.I.).

[8] United States v. Cruz, No. 06-CR-105ML (D.R.I.).

[9] See McElroy, supra n. 1 at 13.

[10] Id.


  1. Pingback: Lara Montecalvo – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit | The Vetting Room

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